Getting to know Liam day and his new book Afforded Permanence
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
Oddly, I discovered I wanted to write poetry before really encountering it. My first summer at grad school in Vermont, I lived off-campus with a roommate who was a fisherman, a fly fisherman to be precise. I had never fished before, but, at the end of days spent in class and at the library, we spent our evenings at the myriad streams and lakes in the area. If we caught anything large enough, we brought it home and cooked it. If we didn't, we hit a bar in Middlebury for dinner. That first summer, between the reading I was required to do and evening trips to explore and excavate the trout-filled world around us, I read Norman McLean’s A River Runs Through It. From it sprang a truly terrible poem set in the gloaming of a stream where I caught my first fish.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Sadly, I don’t. This is partially due to the fact that I have a job that requires so much attention. I also have to cop to being somewhat undisciplined on top of it, though I think that’s because I’ve usually exhausted my store of self-discipline by the time I get home from work. If I do have a routine, it is an evening one. I tend to write from 10:00PM to midnight or 1:00AM after my wife has gone to bed. Some nights I’m too tired to produce anything original, but I still try to force myself to read over work that’s in the editing stage. I feel that, at the very least, I can iron out a line or improve word choice here and there.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
It varies. In the collection, there’s a poem inspired by a trip to MOMA in New York to view the Willem de Kooning exhibit. Observing the deconstruction of de Kooning’s figures as his career progressed, I knew that I wanted to connect that to the changing face of Boston. I chose the view of Charlestown from the top of Winter Hill in Somerville to make that connection, because from that vantage you can actually see the layers of history: from Bunker Hill Monument to Schraft’s factory to the Tobin Bridge to newer plants. Inspiration can also sometimes stem from all of the above, image, sound, phrase, and idea all working together. I’m working on a poem now that was inspired by a combination of sensations on a recent bus trip. A guy at the back of the bus was listening to Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” on a small radio; a guy a couple of seats in front of him was laughing that his ex still bought product from him; at the same time, the police were executing something more than a routine traffic stop on a car they pulled over near the intersection of Blue Hill Ave. and Columbia Road in Dorchester; my mother had just been in a fairly serious car crash, about which I was worried; and, on top of all of it, for some reason I remembered that, when younger, my brother joked about wanting to be one of Gladys Knight’s Pips when he grew up. All of it went into the stew for the poem.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
The first poet who had a significant influence on me was Billy Collins, whose unprepossessing style was a necessary correction to my then belief that to write poetry one needed to write in an overly ornate style. The second poem I ever tried to write, after the poem in imitation of Norman McLean, was one in imitation of Collins’ “Directions.” Again I made a hash of it. In the intervening 15 years or so, the poet who has had the most influence on me is probably John Ashbery, whose obscurity in a book like Flow Chart represented almost a course correction for me. In many ways, it would be difficult to think of two poets more different than Billy Collins and John Ashbery. I now see myself as charting sort of a middle course between their influences.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
My new collection is a series of poems, each based on a different bus route in the MBTA system. I was on the #77 bus one day heading up Mass. Ave. from Harvard Square to Arlington and we passed a record store. My first thought was, There are still record stores?! And so on the back of a ticket I was using as a bookmark I jotted down a poem titled The Last Record Store. After I got home and typed it up, I showed it to my wife, who liked it. She suggested that I could do something similar for other routes and, so, the idea of a book of bus poems was born. For me, the most significant theme of the book is change. At a block-to-block level, I talk about how such and such a bar was a restaurant before going under, or how you can still see the outline for the advertisement for West Coast Video on the side of the building that’s been shuttered since it went out of business. At a demographic level, I talk about how areas of the city that were once dominated by Jewish and Irish populations are now home to so many people of color.
Read a sample poem from Afforded Permanence here:
#37 - Guardian Angel
A half-moon that looks like
God took a thumb he licked
and rubbed it across the night sky
reminds me of half-moons
my mother'd buy at Hanley's bakery,
frosting just right, none too sweet,
though being a spoiled brat
I refused to eat chocolate,
would cut them in half
and take only the vanilla parts.
A block up was Steve Slyne's,
whose crusty, eponymous owner would,
when my friends and I were old enough
to ride the bus the mile to the center,
yell at us if we took too long
deciding what we wanted from the candy rack.
Further up was the bowling alley,
its crowded video game arcade
the middle school hangout, and all of it
north of Billings Field, where as teens
we'd go at night to drink.
Sometimes the cops would chase us,
but sometimes they wouldn't
and no one was ever arrested and no one
ever got hurt until, that is,
Brian drove home drunk
and Dave, in the passenger seat
when he blew through a stop sign,
wore for a year a metal halo.